Rising costs of Poland trips spark concern in Knesset

NGO Yedid fighting to bring prices down.

Israelis in Poland 298.8 (photo credit: Yedid)
Israelis in Poland 298.8
(photo credit: Yedid)
Concern is rising both within and outside the government over the rising costs of the educational trips to Poland for high school students. The Education Ministry announced last week that the cost of the trips was once again increasing for the February-May period, by NIS 1,200-1,500 per student. The Knesset Education Committee met Wednesday to discuss the issue, and the community rights NGO Yedid has been engaged in a protracted battle to lower the costs. A Knesset report prepared for the Education Committee found that a disproportionate number of the schools sending their students on these trips cater to the top five percent in the country socioeconomically. In addition, a larger number of religious students participate in the educational ventures than secular ones. The Education Ministry said Wednesday that the actual increase in the trip's cost was only NIS 700 more than last year. The ministry decided to offer an 11% subsidy, putting the total cost of the trip at NIS 3,830 plus $480 for the flight. The major reason for rising costs, the ministry said, was the increased prices in Poland. In addition, the costs now cover kosher food for all, a doctor accompanying each mission, and preparation for the trip in Israel. A ministry spokeswoman also said the cost of the trip had been rising for the last four years. However, Michael Frenkel from the Ginzberg-Haoren school in Yavneh told the committee that "this is the third year that I have organized the trips to Poland. In 2006, the trip cost $1,065, and in 2008 - $1,618. I don't see any reason for the increase in prices, because the exchange does not have to be pegged to the dollar but rather the zloty or euro. I continue to pay the hotel the same rate I've been paying for the last two years." The ministry also stressed it would continue providing grants to those students who needed them. According to the Knesset report, there are several ways for students to receive grants for as much as a third of the total cost. Aside from the ministry, which provides grants and free plane tickets to some, local authorities have sponsored students from their districts, and the Claims Conference has allocated money for grants. Jewish Agency Spokesman Michael Jankelowitz told The Jerusalem Post that certain cities had raised the issue with their sister cities in the United States as part of the Partnership 2000 initiative, a project that pairs Israeli and US cities. Jankelowitz said each US town would have to make its own decision whether to provide its sister city with funds for the Poland trips. Ayelet from Gesher LeOlam, one of six travel agencies that won the most recent tender for the trips, told the Post that there were still many people registering to go to Poland. "While we won't know for sure if there has been a drop until next week, when registration closes, so far we have not seen a decline in participants. Teachers involved in planning the trips have told me that there is still the same amount of interest," she said. Meanwhile, a Yedid-sponsored group of parents from Ashkelon has embarked on a national campaign to boycott the trips until the cost goes down. The group also sent a letter to State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss in July, asking him to look into how the Education Ministry was allocating the free airplane tickets. They claimed the ministry was issuing the free tickets to staff and relatives rather than needy students. According to the Knesset report, the ministry gave the majority of the tickets to students rather than staff over the past four years (217 vs. 68). The 11th grade students at the AMIT school in Kfar Batya have decided to launch their own initiative to help pay for the trip. They have arranged for a one-time performance by Shuli Rand of his play Hassidei Neto next Wednesday. All proceeds will go toward subsidizing the school's Poland trip. Trips to Poland began in 1988, and the number of students markedly increased in 2003, when former education minister Limor Livnat decided that the ministry should oversee all missions to Poland, the Knesset report noted.